In one of the closest and most exciting Qualifying sessions ever seen in GP2, Fabio Leimer proved to be one of the quickest men at Sepang as he set the 5th fastest time for tomorrow’s Feature race. Both Practice and Qualifying were made much more interesting by the introduction, for the first time, of a tyre choice from GP2 tyre supplier Pirelli, all teams were given three sets of hard tyres and one set of medium tyres per driver. This made for a difficult choice for all the teams, did they use the medium tyre in either session and if so at what stage, did they go for an early quick lap or wait until the end and risk wasting the tyres in heavy traffic.
Both Racing Engineering drivers, Swiss Fabio Leimer and France’s Nathanaël Berthon, used the 30 minute Practice session to continue to work on the set up of their cars for the difficult Sepang circuit and neither man went for a quick lap. At the end of the session Leimer was 11th fastest with a time of 1m47.616s whilst Berthon was just a few hundredths of a second slower in 14th place with a time of 1m47.644s.
The Qualifying session got under way in dry conditions as the possible threat of rain had disappeared. Leimer soon made his intentions very clear as, with 10 minutes of the session gone, he put in a very quick lap to move up to second place on the timing screens. At this stage the large majority of the teams had opted to use the hard Pirelli option to ensure a “banker” fast time.
Traffic on the circuit soon became a major problem with many of the drivers having to abort their fast lap as the slicks required an out lap and then a warm-up lap before they were at their optimum temperature which meant that on any given lap there would be a number of drivers still getting up to speed.
Leimer was to become a victim of this problem as, with ten minutes remaining, the Racing Engineering team fitted the number 5 car with the medium compound tyres. Leimer was immediately the fastest man on track and with two sectors of the lap completed he was on course for pole position. Unfortunately for the Swiss driver he came across two cars on their warm-up laps as he sped down the back straight and, although one moved out of the way, the distraction of the second car just ahead caused him to lock his left front brake as he entered the final corner ruining his lap.
The final minutes of the session proved just how competitive the 2012 GP2 season is likely to be as, when the chequered flag fell, an astonishing 19 cars were within less than one second of each other.
Despite the last minute drama for Leimer his early quick lap was good enough to secure an excellent 5th on the grid with a time of 1m45.588s, less than one tenth of a second away from Pole Position. Berthon was also setting quick laps during the session and his best time of 1m46.428s, just eight tenths slower than Leimer was good enough for 18th place on the grid.
Fabio Leimer’s pace today will make him one of the favourites for tomorrow’s 31 lap Feature Race and although Nathanaël Berthon will be starting from the 9th row, such is the closeness of all the cars, a point scoring finish is a strong possibility. The choice of tyre compounds for the race will also mean that team strategies and pit stops will be even more important than they have been in the past.
Saturday11:00 Race 1 (31 laps/60 min) (Spain 4:00)
Sunday13:15 Race 2 (22 laps/45min) (Spain 7:15)